José (or Jusepe) de
Ribera, Spanish painter, etcher, and draughtsman, active for all his known
career in Italy, where he was called 'Lo Spagnoletto' (the Little Spaniard).
Little is known of his life before he settled in Naples (at the time a
Spanish possession) in 1616. Naples was then one of the main centres of
the Caravaggesque style, and Ribera is often described as one of
his early work is markedly tenebrist, it is much more individual than
that of most Caravaggesque artists, particularly in his vigorous and scratchy
handling of paint. Similarly, his penchant for the typically Caravaggesque
theme of bloody martyrdom has been overplayed, enshrined as it is in Byron's
lines: 'Spagnoletto tainted/His brush with all the blood of all the sainted'
(Don Juan, xiii. 71). He undoubtedly painted some powerful pictures of
this type, notably the celebrated Martyrdom of St Bartholomew (Prado,
Madrid, c. 1630), but he was equally capable of great tenderness, as in
The Adoration of the Shepherds (Louvre, Paris, 1650), and his work is
remarkable for his feeling for individual humanity. Indeed, he laid the
foundation of that respect for the dignity of the individual which was
so important a feature of Spanish art from
of his work is evident also in the secular subjects, such as The Clubfooted
Boy (Louvre, 1642). He was the first to breach the traditional Spanish
dislike for mythological themes (Apollo and Marsyas, Musées Royaux, Brussels,
1637), and he broadened the Baroque repertory by his series of philosophers
depicted as beggars or vagabonds (Archimedes, Prado, 1630).
moved away from his early tenebrist style, and his late works are often
rich in colour and soft in modelling. He was the leading painter in Naples
in his period (Velázquez visited him during his second visit to
Italy and probably during his first) and his work was influential in Spain
(where much of it was exported) as well as in Italy. His reputation has
remained high, and until the Napoleonic Wars he and
Murillo were virtually
the only Spanish painters who were widely known outside their native country.